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Integrated Mental Health Care

for Health Care Providers

Integrated Mental Health Care

HIV Care Continuum

The HIV care continuum--sometimes referred to as the HIV treatment cascade--is a model used by Federal, state and local agencies to identify issues and opportunities related to improving the delivery of services to people living with HIV across the entire continuum of care. The cascade of HIV care in the United States also has become a focus for interventions aimed at improving the success of HIV treatment (Mangal, Rimland, and Marconi, 2014).

By closely examining the proportion of people living with HIV engaged in each of the five separate stages of the HIV care continuum (Diagnosed, Linked to Care, Retained in Care, Prescribed ART, and Virally Suppressed), policymakers and service providers are able to pinpoint where gaps may exist in connecting people living with HIV to sustained, quality care, and to implement system improvements and service enhancements that better support individuals as they move from one stage in the continuum to the next. Knowing where the drop-offs are most pronounced, and for what populations, is vital to knowing how, where, and when to intervene to break the cycle of HIV transmission in the United StatesLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.). (See data and additional information from and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Link will take you outside the VA website.)


In many ways, Veterans with HIV infection in VA care represent the future wave of the HIV epidemic in the United States. Compared with the overall HIV-infected population in the United States, Veterans with HIV in VA care are older, more likely to be members of minority groups, and more likely to have a history of substance use. Thus, it is not surprising that they are experiencing an increasing burden of medical and psychiatric comorbid disease. HIV infection has become a complex, chronic disease in which any given problem likely has multiple etiologies. Although this disease is substantially improved by antiretroviral treatment, there are many unaddressed barriers that interfere with initiation of treatment and retention in care. As individuals with HIV infection age, organ injury associated with HIV infection, aging-related comorbid illness, and substance use disorders likely will lead to even more mortality. It is of utmost importance to prioritize and coordinate screening and treatment for important comorbid conditions while maintaining excellence in the care of individuals with HIV.

Patient-Aligned Care Teams (PACTs) are an essential part of mental health care in VA. PACTs include primary care providers, nurse/care managers, psychologists, mental health and substance abuse providers, social workers, and pharmacists. Focusing care on the whole person is a patient-driven, proactive approach to wellness, prevention, and health promotion.

Persons living with HIV are at an increased risk for depression and developing mood, anxiety, and cognitive disorders. There is great opportunity for integrated care for this population.

Integrated HIV Care

"Integrated health care," often referred to as interdisciplinary health care, is characterized by a high degree of collaboration and communication among health professionals. What makes integrated health care unique is information sharing among team members related to patient care and the establishment of comprehensive treatment plans to address patients' biological, psychological, and social needs. The interdisciplinary health care team includes a diverse group of members (e.g., physicians, psychologists, social workers, and occupational and physical therapists), depending on the needs of the patient.

Addressing the high prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders (MH/SUD) in Veterans with HIV by increasing the availability of services for such disorders is critically important for successful treatment. Mental health providers in particular can add the following services to an integrated care team:

  • Cognitive, capacity, diagnostic, and personality assessments that differentiate normal processes from pathologic states, side effects of medications, adjustment reactions, or combinations of these problems
  • Behavioral health assessment and treatment that provide individuals with the self-management skills necessary to effectively manage their chronic conditions
  • Diagnosis and treatment of mental and behavioral health problems (e.g., depression, suicide risk, anxiety disorders, addiction, and insomnia)
  • Consultation and recommendations to family members, significant others, and other health care providers

Ongoing substance use and active psychiatric disorders are common barriers to HIV treatment among Veterans. These comorbidities affect access to diagnosis, linkage to and retention in care, disease progression, and adherence to antiretroviral treatment.

Given the high prevalence of MH/SUD in Veterans with HIV, increasing the availability of services to address this need is of critical importance in their successful treatment as research shows that integrated mental health care can increase HIV treatment adherence and improve overall health outcomes.

Integrating psychological services into HIV clinical care settings can take many forms. Ojikutu et al. (2014) have emphasized the following aspects for successful models of integrated HIV care:

  • Patient centered with integrated or co-located services
  • Diverse teams of clinical and nonclinical providers
  • A site culture that promotes a stigma-reducing environment
  • Availability of comprehensive medical, behavioral health, and psychosocial services
  • Effective communication strategies
  • Focus on quality

Bonner et al. (2012) propose three models for treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Although treatment of HCV has evolved, these models can be adapted for current HIV treatment. They encourage clinics to select the model best suited to local resources and expertise. Some of the advantages of each of these models of care are outlined in the following table.

Co-located services
Convenience for staff
Convenience for patients
Most streamlined and efficient
Maximizes access to MH/SUD services
Strong and ongoing relationship with MH/SUD providers and clinics
Providers use outpatient consultation
Staffed by nonphysician providers with training in MH/SUD care
Brief screening and intervention
Assistance in case management

Across all models of integrated care, a specialty staff is critical for improving treatment outcomes, retention in care, and quality of life for patients. Social work and case management staff are vital to facilitating communication among providers, monitoring treatment outcomes, recognizing concerns that may not present during clinic visits, and connecting Veterans to important resources necessary for continued engagement in care as well as overall health outcomes. Liaison with mental health and substance use staff is also crucial, as primary care is responsible for many patients with comorbid disorders who may not have been diagnosed or treated for MH/SUD. When concerns are identified during clinic visits, access to same day MH/SUD evaluation is optimal.

Integrated care models also utilize Tele-Mental Health services to facilitate access to and delivery of MH/SUD services, especially with regard Veterans who face significant barriers to accessing care. Increased use of telehealth could significantly increase Veterans' access to mental health services by addressing critical barriers to care such as stigma, distance from care providers, and disability.

General Clinician Tools

SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions (CIHS)

American Psychological Association: HIV/AIDS ResourcesLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.Includes blog posts, fact sheets, podcasts, and other resources

American Psychological Association: HIV/AIDS Programs and ResourcesLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.

American Academy of HIV Medicine: HIV Specialist Special Issue on HIV and Mental HealthLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.

Clinician Tools for Addressing Substance Use

Reducing Alcohol Use

Brief Interventions for Alcohol Use DisorderLink will take you to our Viral Hepatitis internet site

Self-Administered Screening for Substance AbuseNational Association of Forensic Counselors

Pocket Guide for Alcohol Screening and Brief InterventionPDF icon

Addiction Pharmacotherapy for Alcohol Use Disorders:Link will take you to our HIV/AIDS internet site

Primary Care of Veterans with HIV: Alcohol MisuseLink will take you to our HIV/AIDS internet site

Treating PTSD in the Context of Complex Medical Issues

For Providers:

VHA's National Center for PTSDLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.

VHA PTSD Consultation Program for Providers inside and outside VA who are treating Veterans; Services are freeLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.

For Patients:

PTSD Coach Online

Health Psychology/Behavioral Medicine

Medication AdherenceLink will take you outside the VA website.


Crisis Intervention

Pain ManagementLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.

Tobacco Cessation

For Patients:

http://maketheconnection.netLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.

Journal Articles

Bonner JE, Barritt AS 4th, Fried MW, et al. Time to rethink antiviral treatment for hepatitis c in patientsLink will take you outside the VA website.. Dig Dis Sci. 2012 Jun;57(6):1469-74.

Fix GM, Asch SM, Saifu HN, et al. Delivering PACT-principled care: are specialty care patients being left behind?Link will take you outside the VA website. J Gen Intern Med. 2014 Jul;29 Suppl 2:S695-702.

Hoang T, Goetz MB, Yano EM, et al. The impact of integrated HIV care on patient health outcomesLink will take you outside the VA website.. Med Care. 2009 May;47(5):560-7.

Mangal JP, Rimland D, Marconi VC. The continuum of HIV care in a Veterans' Affairs Clinic. AIDS Res Hum RetrovirusesLink will take you outside the VA website.. 2014 May;30(5):409-15.

Ojikutu B, Holman J, Kunches L, et al. Interdisciplinary HIV care in a changing healthcare environment in the USALink will take you outside the VA website.. AIDS Care. 2014;26(6):731-5.

Willenbring ML. Integrating care for patients with infectious, psychiatric, and substance use disorders: concepts and approachesLink will take you outside the VA website.. AIDS. 2005 Oct;19 Suppl 3:S227-37.

Zaller N, Gillani FS, Rich JD. A model of integrated primary care for HIV-positive patients with underlying substance use and mental illnessLink will take you outside the VA website.. AIDS Care. 2007 Oct;19(9):1128-33.

Related Resources


Primary Care of Veterans with HIVLink will take you to our HIV/AIDS internet site

HIV/AIDS Care ContinuumLink will take you outside the VA website.

Key Graphics from CDC Analysis Showing Proportion of People Engaged in Each of the Five Main Stages of HIV CareLink will take you outside the VA website.

Health Care Reform: Integrated Health CareLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site.

Workforce Issues Related to: Physical and Behavioral Healthcare Integration